The Dirty Truth About Sharing: Property Rights for Preschoolers

I knew at some point, sending my kid to preschool was going to create some culture clash.

I work full-time, as does my husband, so our littles need to be somewhere during the day.  We have a daycare provider we love, but as our older son is pushing four now, we decided to send him to an actual preschool program this fall.  Academically, he’s already well beyond preschool curriculum, thanks to our little Ron Paul experiment this summer, but he has a naturally reserved personality in new situations, and we thought preschool might be a good challenge for him.

He wasn’t two weeks in before we started seeing some repercussions at home.  The first issue: a bit of a snag with the concept of sharing.

His little brother was contentedly playing with a toy, and big brother decided he wanted it and threw a fit.  Now, they had scuffled over toys before, but our system at home follows a single, clear rule

You cannot take something from someone else.

That’s Commandment #7 if you want to cross-reference.

Normally, when my kids are disputing toy rights, all I have to say is, “You can’t take something from your brother.  You can wait until he’s done or talk to him about it with words.”  That settles them pretty readily.

At least it did, until preschool got involved.

Now my three-year-old points accusingly at his baby brother and howls, “He’s not sharing!!”

To which I say, “So?”

“My teacher says we have to share.”


Of course she does.

The issue here isn’t that we’re anti-sharing at our house.  We’re anti-taking.  There is zero difference between coercing someone into sharing and forcibly taking something from him.  What’s more, when you teach children that we all need to share, what you really teach them is to look around the room, scope out what other kids have, and go get what they want.  Anyone who doesn’t surrender the goods is the bad guy because, hey, not sharing!

You don’t breed generosity by forcing children to share; you breed envy and entitlement.

At our house, we are working on these principles instead:

  1. Non-aggression
    We don’t hurt people or break things.  We don’t use force to get what we want.
  2. Property rights
    They each have a few special toys that belong to them.  They do not ever have to allow their brother to play with these, although they very often share them voluntarily.  Toys held in common, which include most of our toys, are considered the property of whomever is using them, and they are permitted to use them as long as they want to.
  3. Diplomacy
    If your brother is using something you would like to play with too, you may ask him for a turn.  He has the right to say yes, no, or not right now.  Even our one-and-a-half year old understands this idea.

So now I’m sending him back to preschool, having reinforced over and over again that people do not have to share.  What’s the over/under on how long it will take before I get a phone call from teacher about this?


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